Pavel Datsyuk quickly adapting to life in the KHL

Russian hockey star Pavel Datsyuk thrilled Detroit Red Wings’ fans for 15 years from 2001 to 2016 when he deeply disappointed them by announcing he’d be heading back to his homeland to finish out his pro career. The 38-year-old centre still had a year to run on his multi-million dollar, long-term contract in Motown, but felt the time was right to return to Russia because of family reasons. Most fans were upset that they’d miss Datsyuk’s hair-raising skills, but some felt he betrayed the Red Wings franchise because it still had to carry his $7.5 million 2016/17 paycheque against the league salary cap. Luckily for the Wings, they were able to unload Datsyuk’s salary on the Arizona Coyotes via a draft-day trade.

With the sour taste of the contract situation being rectified, Red Wings and NHL fans in general will now be saddened at Datsyuk’s departure based on his hockey talent alone. He’s now skating for SKA St. Petersburg in the European-based Kontinental Hockey League and adapting to the new on-ice surroundings very quickly. After six games for St. Petersburg, Datsyuk has been in fine form with four goals and three assists. He’s on pace for at least a point per game this season after struggling somewhat in the NHL last campaign with 16 goals and 33 assists for 49 points in 66 outings.

Datsyuk has had injury problems to deal with over the past few years though and played in just 164 regular-season games for Detroit over the past three seasons. He’s no stranger to the KHL though as he racked up 36 points in 31 games in 2012/13 when the NHL campaign was shortened due to labour problems. St. Petersburg will have to do without Datsyuk’s services for the next few weeks though as he will be playing for Russia at the upcoming World Cup of Hockey tournament in Toronto. Russian fans shouldn’t be surprised that Datsyuk has adapted so quickly to the KHL game as he’d be an effective player in any league in the world.

The 5-foot-11-inch centre fell just short of the 1,000 game milestone in the NHL due to his recent injuries as he suited up for 953 regular-season contests and contributed 918 points on 314 goals and 604 assists. He also chipped in with 113 points in 157 playoff encounters and helped the Red Wings win Stanley Cups in 2001/02 and 2007/08. Datsyuk kicked off his pro career by playing five seasons in the Russian Hockey Super League (RSL) from 1996 to 2001. The youngster scored 102 points in 168 games in the RSL and the Red Wings obviously felt he had something to offer. However, they didn’t select him until they took a chance with the 171st overall pick in the 1998 NHL Draft.

Since making his NHL debut in 2001, Datsyuk has proven to be one of the most consistent, sportsmanlike, and exciting hockey players on the planet. He played in four Olympic Games and captained his teammates in 2014 when they were held in Sochi, Russia. He took home the Frank J. Selke Trophy three times as the top defensive forward in the NHL and won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy four straight years for sportsmanship and performance and sportsmanship. Datsyuk’s dazzling offensive game never suffered while he took care of duties in his own end of the ice and was seen as a complete 200-foot player.

Datsyuk also played in several International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championships and won numerous individual NHL awards and honours during his career in North America. While Datsyuk has just left Detroit and the NHL, fans should take the opportunity to appreciate his skills during the World Cup of Hockey event while they can. This could be the very last time he plays in competitive games on North American soil before retiring.